This proudly different Texas capital is home to thriving live music and culinary scenes, a rambunctious university, and a healthy share of fitness fanatics. In their efforts to “Keep Austin Weird,” locals embrace it all.
Author Mark Healy Photography Blake Gordon
DAY TWO Austin is a city of night-owl musicians, late-rising students, football fans, barbecue obsessives and—somewhat surprisingly—fitness fanatics. No matter the weather, the city’s puzzle work of pathways is filled with runners, dog walkers and cyclists, thanks in large part to Lady Bird Johnson, who focused her post–White House years on creating Lady Bird Lake (named for her after her death in 2007) and preserving public access to the Colorado River. Today, trails line both sides of the river, traversing it on new ramp systems. Get in on the action, and minimize the impact of your four-meal-a-day habit.
After a coffee at stylish Halcyon coffee lounge (1), you head downtown to Mellow Johnny’s (2), the bike store opened two years ago by Craig Staley and local hero Lance Armstrong. This is the hub of Austin’s thriving bike culture: There’s a top-notch training facility, a custom design shop and a gallery’s worth of artwork on the walls.
After Staley fits you with a helmet and a hybrid, you pedal across the river onto a riverside trail called Barton Creek Greenbelt. It’s craggy, but the sunshine sparkling on the rushing Colorado and the lush, enveloping woods propel you forward. Soon enough, you forget that you’re barely two miles from Texas’ capitol building.
The trail leads to Barton Springs (3)—Austin’s favorite swimming hole. You soak your toes, bag a few rays of Hill Country sun, then circle back through town to sample the city’s most beloved burger. Hut’s (4), which just celebrated its 70th birthday, still delivers a sloppy throwback patty along with thick, beer-battered onion rings. Top it off with a Lone Star longneck and some in-depth college football repartee with a woman in a cashmere sweater and designer glasses.
Battling burger-induced lethargy, you park the bike and opt for a stroll along the edge of the commercially reclaimed Warehouse District, where rows of former feed stores now showcase Danish light fixtures and high-end dog treats. There are also dozens of lounges and restaurants that are more sophisticated than those on the unmistakably collegiate Sixth Street Strip a few blocks over. Sit down for an afternoon latte at Jo’s (5) to kick off a laid-back evening.
In a town with so much music, going to a movie theater seems odd. Still, enough locals urge you to go to one of the Alamo Drafthouses (6) that you find yourself grabbing the last seat for a 7 p.m. show, in which comedians ad-lib to old movies and TV clips. The show empties with plenty of evening left. You’re in the mood for a good steak and a cocktail with some bite. Ranch 616 (7) and its Brushfire (local Tito’s vodka, orange liqueur and a pickled jalapeño) hit the spot. The biscuits, some of the best you’ve eaten, are a perfect accompaniment.